The Mystery of Mr. Mock (Walling)

  • By R.A.J. Walling
  • First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937; US: Morrow, 1936, as The Corpse with the Floating Foot

Torquemada praised this book when it first appeared; fifty years later, Bill Pronzini condemned it. As one would expect, Torquemada is correct. This is his second best book so far after Mr. Tolefree’s Reluctant Witnesses. It is, first and foremost, a genuine pleasure to read: rather leisurely paced, but allowing the reader to soak up the holiday atmosphere of an inn (converted mill, of which a map should have been provided, as it is not always easy to follow the characters’ movements) and enjoy the company of several well-drawn characters, including an amusing Professor of Philosophy (which allows Walling to discuss detection as philosophy, if not a branch of history) and a Puritanical land-owner. The detection is good, particularly the manner in which Tolefree discovers the corpse and, later, the jewels for which the crime was committed. Although the movements are more than slightly muddled, the identity of the murderer is a good surprise: he should have been the first person we suspected, yet we didn’t.



Not one of Mr. Walling’s many thousand faithful fans (and they include most of the real connoisseurs like Alexander Woollcott, Will Cuppy, Amy Loveman, and William Lyon Phelps) will fail to rejoice over the return of Mr. Farrar, Tolefree’s Dr. Watson, who last appeared in The Corpse in the Green Pyjamas. He has been away for a time, but here he is sleuthing with the ingenious Mr. Tolefree in The Corpse with the Floating Foot.

It was the black of night when Mr. Tolefree crept cautiously into the old mill wheel. Farrar, standing on the bank of the mill stream, held a flashlight for him. The thin pencil of light showed in the black water first a mass of wriggling eels – and then a shoe, which seemed to float to and fro in the water. But it didn’t float downstream – because it was attached to a foot. This new mystery is laid in the village of Combe. A retired naval commander has converted an old mill house into an inn, and there in Combe is collected as strange and interesting a group of characters as Mr. Walling has ever assembled. Tolefree and Farrar, returning from a Guy Fawkes bonfire, find one of the guests missing from the inn. And then things begin to happen.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Mrs. Elizabeth L. Sturch, 6th March 1937):

The corpse is quite a long time in putting in an appearance and creating a mystery; but all the amusing and circumstantial description of life in a village in November, which precedes its discovery, turns out to have some bearing on the problem.  The corpse, when found, proves to be that of Mr. Mock, a rather strange visitor at the inn who seemed to have spent most of his supposed holiday in ill-health and ill-temper.  In fact, things indicated that Mr. Mock was not altogether what he seemed, and the detective Tolefree decided that the only way of solving the puzzle of his death was by discovering some more facts about his life.

In this he is helped by one Pye, a very pleasant professor of Moral Philosophy, and together they succeed in throwing suspicion on most of the inhabitants of the village—including the local ne’er-do-well, the local Puritan, and the gentlemanly innkeeper.  One cannot of course reveal which of these, if any, is the criminal; it is enough to say that the malicious persistence of Tolefree’s inquiries bring him to a satisfying conclusion.

Observer (Torquemada, 4th April 1937):

I think that Mr. Walling must have taken my advice and sent Tolefree on a cruise; the latter has returned to solve The Mystery of Mr. Mock with all, and more than all, his old brilliance.  He has, too, brought with him a Professor of Moral Philosophy who is a pleasant addition to Mr. Walling’s gallery of portraits.  The action of the author’s latest ingenuity takes place in a Wiltshire village, and is, in Mr. Walling’s sound tradition, concerned with one death only, the complications of which are ample to keep our interest gripped until the final solution.  This solution is as neat a piece of detective work as Tolefree has yet done, and I have no hesitation in claiming The Mystery of Mr. Mock as the best book Walling has given us.  I hope that he will not let us lose sight of Professor Pye.